Who Am I?

Weekend Update 06-30-2012

Posted: June 30th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Weekend Update | Comments Off on Weekend Update 06-30-2012

Evangelism and the Ego. I was particularly struck by this quote of Elder Paisios toward the end. “Often we see a person and we say a couple spiritual words to him and he converts. 
Later we say, “Ah, I saved someone.” I believe that the person who has the disposition and goodness 
within him, if he doesn’t convert from what we say, would convert from the sight of a bear or a fox or from anything else. Let 
us beware of false evangelization.

The Great Abdication. Looking more and more like 1931.

The destructive, ideological push for austerity. Sometimes I feel as though my reaction is that of the professor in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, “What do they teach in schools these days?” I know, of course, that as human beings we do not actually tend to act or react from any sort of logical assessment. And I’ve seen the studies confirming that truth. We tend toward rationalization not rationality. We buttress our beliefs about the way things should be, about ourselves, and about those we love and those we hate by finding “facts” that support that framework and discarding those that don’t. But it still shocks me that so many people can cling to ideas that have been so utterly and thoroughly discredited by cold, hard facts. I’m not talking about the ideologues who continue to promote the ideas. They have considerable, if short-sighted and ill-advised, self-interest driving their ideology. I’m talking about the people who continue to elect those who blatantly express goals and ideas that are societally destructive, utterly irrational, and against even the self-interest of the overwhelming majority of those electing them. I know we all tend to be bound by delusion, but it’s still amazing to me how deeply that runs through our nature, especially within the dynamics of the group. The last quote in this post captures how utterly absurd this has all become. “Moon landing was real. Evolution exists. Tax cuts lose revenue. The research has shown this a thousand times. Enough already.” Of course, in the US nearly half the population does not “believe” in evolution, so clearly we as a people believe reality is contingent on our belief.

Turns out Robert Reich was a better prognosticator than me. And his post-decision post was also interesting. I really didn’t think the good of the Court or our country would rise above ideology for Roberts, but apparently I was wrong. Given that roughly 80% of Republicans support keeping kids on parents’ plans up to age 26 and the prohibition against denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions, I don’t think anything will ever remove those provisions. And those were the two provisions that most directly affect my two younger kids who both inherited celiac disease from me. So I can breathe a sigh of relief. Roberts concern, even if just for the way history would view his court, has saved my kids from the worst our country’s “Christian” conservatives would have wished on them. More than ever, I question my association with that label. If I hadn’t met Christ, I would run from it. I do agree with Gandhi, though. Boy, do I agree with him.

Krugman’s column is also worth reading.

And I wholeheartedly agree that the ACA doesn’t go far enough. But it’s so much better than than the alternative that I’ll take it as a first step.

Weekend Update 06-23-2012

Posted: June 23rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Weekend Update | Comments Off on Weekend Update 06-23-2012

The Communion of the Saints in Prayer. Wow. That’s really all I can say. I am sensitive to anachronisms, but I’ve found that when I try to describe them to many people, they don’t understand what I mean. Thinking of a post by Frank Viola that a friend recently tweeted, I will note that perhaps, when facing a choice between the word ‘faith’ and the word ‘baptism’ perhaps the NT writers were not using them interchangeably, but actually knew what each meant and selected the word they wanted. I know that would be a radical idea for many Protestants. But I would suggest that an anachronistic reading of Scripture is probably not the best idea.

The dirty dozen and the clean fifteen of produce when it comes to pesticide levels. Good information to have when shopping.

IPv6, whois database, tracking criminals, and getting search warrants. This is the among the best reasoned responses to flap over the recent concern about IPv6 expressed by the FBI.

I still clearly remember seeing this version of the video for Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood projected on a screen at the Bonham Exchange in San Antonio. That was, I believe, in 1988 — four years after the video had apparently been released. I know it’s hard for people younger than me to imagine a time when things weren’t at the tip of your fingers. Out of curiosity, I googled the Bonham Exchange and they are apparently still open. Go figure! I looked at the pictures in the tour and it’s still recognizably the same club. We had a couple of wild Halloweens there. In one of them my (now) wife got decked out in a version of my (then) look. That was a fun night. I remember the “gypsy” fortune teller, the haunted house in the basement, and of course the dancing. Somewhere along the way since then I guess I got old. But I really wouldn’t mind being the old guy out on the dance floor at the Bonham! Sigh.


Violet Crown Cinema

Posted: June 18th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Restaurant Reviews | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Violet Crown Cinema, in downtown Austin, is a place I would call another local gem. My wife and I don’t go downtown that often anymore, which is the only reason I can imagine it took us so long to discover it. (Violet Crown has been open for a bit more than a year now.) The cinema shows independent films in four small theaters with very comfortable seats. They are also built so there really are no bad seats in the house and are stadium style so you don’t have to worry about tall people in front of you. We saw Bernie to celebrate her birthday and had a fantastic time.

The cinema has a snack bar which includes an espresso bar, hummus, and vegetable snacks in addition to the traditional popcorn and soda. The theater also has a cafe, lounge, and bar. Arrive early, enjoy food and drinks. And take anything you want into the theater where the seats have small fold-out tables. I understand if you don’t have time to get your food before the movie starts, they will give you a pager so you can go get it when it’s ready. Unlike places like the Alamo, there is no food and drink service in the theater, but the way their theater is arranged, that’s not really an issue.

The menu is not large, but it clearly marks the gluten free options. There aren’t many options, but it’s a small menu anyway. Moreover, since nothing else is fried, the sweet potato chips and hand cut fries are gluten free! No cross-contamination concerns. I had the sweet potato chips and they were delicious.

My wife and I will definitely be returning in the future. If you live in the area and like independent films, then give Violet Crown Cinema a try. I highly recommend it.

Weekend Update 06-16-2012

Posted: June 16th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Weekend Update | Comments Off on Weekend Update 06-16-2012

The True Self and the Story of Me. Fr. Stephen captures the essence of shame and focuses on the identification of the self. “Our shame-based perception of the world is a deep distortion. The information we think to be true and the judgments we make miss the mark. Our problem is often more than the failure of the mind to be grounded in the heart. The mind (thoughts and emotions) is simply insane (insanis).The Death of the Moral Man continues that discussion. “The life that is hid with Christ in God is the new man. He is more than moral – he is good. He is no longer dead – he is alive. And it is for this man fully alive that Christ died.

Did Republicans Deliberately Crash the US Economy? Well, duh. Is water wet? The question really is whether enough of the American electorate is stupid enough to reward them for it. The jury is still out on that one.

Yep, the whole ICANN domain expansion is nothing but a scheme to further enrich domain registrars, who already make much of their money from defensive and malicious registrations.

The CEO of Business Insider provides an extensive list of charts making the problem with inequality in this country and the systemic problems it’s causing abundantly clear.

We don’t need no education. Romney. He wants to “help” the American people by getting rid of more policemen, firemen, and teachers. At least he’s more or less honest. Briefly. Until he tries to take it back.

Nick Hanauer, a very rich venture capitalist, is actually describing macroeconomics 101 in his TED talk. But in this day and age, that’s “controversial.”

Gamer Girl, Country Boy. Felicia Day. I’ll let the reader determine which character is closer to me. 😉


Posted: June 15th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Movie Reviews | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Bernie

BernieBernie is retelling of the story of a murder in 1996 in Carthage, TX. The film flips back and forth between a narrative storyline and faux documentary style interviews with Carthage residents about Bernie and the crime. I was impressed by how well the director meshed the two forms together to create what feels like a seamless flow.

The actors, of course, are top-notch and don’t disappoint, but I found the way they captured East Texas life (which is more like the northern Louisiana where I was born and spent about a third of my childhood than it is the rest of Texas) in the interspersed fictionalized interviews with Carthage residents even more entertaining. I think anyone who has ever lived in a small Southern town will immediately recognize in those residents some of the same sort of people they have known.

Despite its subject matter, the film is hilarious. Anyone who can get through the film without cracking up at least a few times might just be a Marjorie Nugent. It’s an independent film, so it’s not going to have the distribution of a major blockbuster, but if you can see it in a theater, I recommend doing so. If not, I suppose there’s always the DVD.

Pay attention early in the film to the description of the regions of Texas by the Carthage resident. If you know Texas, you’ll smile knowingly and at least chuckle at a few points. If you don’t know Texas, it will give you some insight into our state.

Enjoy the trailer and see the movie. Bernie gets two thumbs up!


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 48

Posted: June 14th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 48

100. Time has three divisions. Faith is coextensive with all three, hope with one, and love with the remaining two. Moreover, faith and hope will last to a certain point; but love, united beyond union with Him who is more than infinite, will remain for all eternity, always increasing beyond all measure. That is why ‘the greatest of them is love’ (1 Cor. 13:13).

No, if you’re wondering, I don’t really understand this text. But I’m taken by the image of love for all eternity, increasing beyond all measure. I’m not sure what ‘united beyond union’ might be, but I sense in that the essence of theosis.

Pluralism and the Various Christian Gods 2

Posted: June 13th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Pluralism and the Various Christian Gods 2

I concluded my first post with the question, when faced with the myriad forms of modern Christianity, what’s a poor pluralist to do? On the surface, at least, the answer is relatively straightforward. I didn’t and still don’t don’t treat Christianity as one religion. Instead, just I had always done with different systems and practices of belief, I learned to approach each stream called Christian on its own terms as something distinct and unique. After all, they are.

I’ve noticed that a fair number of people, if they are more than superficially aware of the diversity within the umbrella labeled Christianity, seem to expend a degree of energy trying to somehow reconcile the different systems of belief, determine which one is right, or somehow try to find some kind of reductionist, minimal common ground. That’s always seemed odd to me.

If someone says they believe differently than I do or than some other groups does, and I attempt to say that actually they believe pretty much the same thing, then I am attempting to assert power over them. Different beliefs at this level are different. As a rule, they cannot be reconciled with each other.

An individual effort to, through reason or emotion, determine which one is somehow right or correct is focused on the wrong question. If I cared to do so, I could probably write a pretty good logical defense of that umbrella of theological systems of intellectual belief within Christianity called Calvinism. I could probably do the same for many others. I could also find ways to shred and deconstruct many of the same, but at the end of the day, what does any of that matter? After all, I’m not trying to conduct some sort of scientific experiment. I’m not conducting a survey of religion for credit at a university.

I’m trying to determine who offers a description of the reality I experience that seems to more accurately capture my experience. I’m trying to discern who describes a God I am willing to worship and in whom I can find my life. Simply discovering that something is, in at least some sense, intellectually coherent, even if correct, is useless.

Finally, if you strip enough things away, I suppose we could find the common ground between Hinduism and Christianity and call them one as easily as we could strip things away and distill Christian belief to some sort of essence. But what does that accomplish? I haven’t actually made Hinduism and Christianity the same thing. They are still quite different. Instead I have created this new perspective on reality, even if I have not given it a name, which consists of the common beliefs between the two with everything else stripped away.

My approach is not really as difficult as it seems. We know from surveys and studies that between 30k-40k distinctly identifiable Christian denominations and non-denominations exist. That sounds like an unmanageably large number. How could anyone possibly explore each and every one of them? Well, the answer is that nobody ever could, just as no-one could ever possibly explore the path of every guru within Hinduism, past, present, and future. But there are factors that serve, in practice, to reduce those numbers.

First, there are a great many instances of distinct belief within that overall number that consist of a single group not connected organizationally with any others (often described as non-denominational) in locations around the world where I don’t live. As a simple matter of physical location, I don’t need to concern myself about those in my personal exploration. Of course, that leaves a large of number of traditions, denominations, associations, and local non-denominations, but the list is not as daunting as it seems.

Even within those remaining, they tend to aggregate into streams. Now, I do not mean that those who hold themselves distinct within a particular larger stream, such a Calvinism, are all the same. They aren’t. There can be quite a bit of variation and diversity. But that variation and diversity may not matter to me. For instance, I determined early in my exploration that the Calvinist God is not one I would ever worship, nor would I ever agree that lens accurately describes the reality around us. Once I understood that, the distinctions and variation of the individual denominations and non-denominations within that stream became largely irrelevant to me.

For very different reasons, it quickly became apparent to me that the broad Charismatic stream did not mesh with my perception of the Christian God and our reality. I would be hard-pressed to explain to anyone the differences between the different churches in that stream. I’ve read parts of the Book of Mormon (from a literary standpoint it’s pretty dreadful, so I’ve never made it through the whole thing) and otherwise learned enough about it to know that I’m not interested.

As a result, I’ve spent most of the past two decades exploring the streams that flow from Luther, from the Anglican Communion (including those coming out of it from people like the Wesleys), the pietists, and Roman Catholicism. Not too many years ago, I discovered the distinct nature of Orthodoxy and found within it many of the things I had not found in other streams. I didn’t even realize I was searching for some of them.

There are, of course, specific ideas and beliefs I reject because they simply do not factually describe the world. I do not mean to imply that sort of our discernment of reality and perception of things as they are doesn’t matter. It does. The modern “Young Earth Creationist” hypothesis is one such example. And I don’t particularly care if it’s being stated by a Baptist or an Orthodox (and I’ve read and heard it from both of those and many more). I’m not going to believe it. I also don’t spend a great deal of energy on the matter.

But most beliefs are not subject to such simple analysis and categorization.  The strands are woven into a basket and the whole basket must be examined and, if possible, tried.

In a lot of ways, it was Jesus who had worked his way into the chinks of the walls I had established against Christianity. I had not been looking for a new belief system. I was not exploring Christianity, especially at first, because I was seeking to understand reality. I had an understanding of sorts which had been disrupted, but not exactly overturned, by this strange Christian God. In a lot of ways, I’ve always been looking for the stream that actually described something I could recognize as the God who met me, who came to me.

Still, there are a lot of people in those thirty to forty thousand denominations and non-denominations. When I say something like Calvinism does not describe a God I would ever worship, what does it say about those within that Calvinist stream? What about those in the many different streams I do not accept? To me, that’s only different in degree from the question about those within Hinduism, or Buddhism, or any of a host of different rivers of belief. I’ve written about that here and there in the past. In my next post in this series, I’ll try to touch on it again.

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 47

Posted: June 12th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 47

96.  The things that distress us are not always the same as those that make us angry, the things that distress us being far more numerous than those which make us angry. For example, the fact that something has been broken, or lost, or that a certain person has died, may only distress us. But other things may both distress us and make us angry, if we lack the spirit of divine philosophy.

I think that’s a distinction we sometimes overlook. It’s not uncommon for us, in our distress, to become angry. To reduce it to a prosaic and simple level, it distresses us to lose our keys or break a dish. But those are not naturally matters of anger. We misplace stuff. Things get broken. These are the normal ebb and flow of life. How often, though, do we lose our keys and become angry that we cannot find them? Or we break a dish (much less when someone else breaks a dish) and are filled with fury? How can we combat the passion anger in those places where there is a natural connection between our distress and our anger if we are filled with anger when there is no such natural connection?

Lab on a Chip

Posted: June 11th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac | Tags: | Comments Off on Lab on a Chip

I ran across the following article, about an inexpensive and easy to use celiac disease test, and it’s description of a “lab on a chip” intriguing. My younger kids suffer no real acute physical symptoms from celiac. Before I was diagnosed, even though my villi were completely flattened, I had osteoporosis (though I didn’t know it), and a host of other issues, I didn’t have the severe gastrointestinal symptoms some celiac sufferers have. Even now, I’m not always certain if I’ve been exposed or not.

For people like us, any sort of test like this — especially one we could do at home — would be invaluable. And, as they mention in the article, it’s a technology that could be used for more than celiac disease.

Yes, there are potential ethical questions always surfacing from our research in biotech and genetics. But it also greatly enhances the quality of our lives and our ability to help those who suffer from disease. It’s impossible to have one without the other. All things considered, I’ll take the good even with the issues that it raises.

Even just three years ago when I was diagnosed, hardly anyone I knew seemed to know what celiac disease was. Now it receives more attention than I could have imagined. The world changes quickly sometimes.

Saturday Evening Blog Post – May Edition

Posted: June 10th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Misc | Comments Off on Saturday Evening Blog Post – May Edition

In this month’s edition of the Saturday Evening Blog Post, hosted by Elizabeth Esther, I chose a post from my ongoing, though intermittent, series, Why I Am Not An Atheist. The SEBP is a fun opportunity to share something you’ve written and read posts that others have written. Hop over to it and take a look.